Movies Till Dawn: Spotlight on Kino Lorber (Crimetime Edition)

I Wake Up Screaming” (1941) Model and aspiring actress Carole Landis has been murdered, and the likely suspect is sports promoter Victor Mature, who helped to boost her from nobody to starlet in the making. The dead woman’s sister (Betty Grable, on the cusp of her WWII pin-up days) seems convinced that Mature is the culprit, as does detective Laird Cregar, who’s maybe a little too certain that he has the guilty party. But as is often the case in noir, things are not as they seem, as Mature and Betty learn when they put aside their differences to flush out the real killer before Cregar makes good on his promise to see justice done at the end of a rope. Impressive thriller, culled from the novel by pulp master and L.A. native Steve Fisher, boasts stellar photography by seven-time Oscar nominee Edward Cronjager, whose palette of fathomless blacks and glossy whites underscores the murky psychology at work in the story, and in turn, served as a visual template for much of the noir that followed. Mature and Grable are a likable pair, both in romance and investigation, and there are solid character turns from pros like Elisha Cook, Jr. (nervous as ever), William Gargan and Alan Mowbray, but the picture belongs to Cregar; not quite 30 at the time, but completely convincing as an almost supernatural menace (he spends much of the picture enveloped in shadow), the hulking Cregar’s turn here helped to cement him as a heavy (literally and figuratively) until his untimely death four years later. Kino’s Blu-ray ports over the theatrical trailer, a wealth of promotional material – including some issued under the original title, “Hot Spot” – and informative commentary by noir scholar Eddie Muller.

The Lodger” (1945) If Laird Cregar is remembered at all by general audiences, it’s for this solid thriller about the murders attributed to Jack the Ripper, which was translated to film five times, including a 1927 silent adaptation directed by Alfred Hitchcock. This version – the third – benefits from taut pacing and stylish direction by John Brahm, a prolific and capable filmmaker who would go on to helm a vast amount of episodic television, including numerous episodes of “The Twilight Zone”; his efforts to paint a shadow-steeped, fog-shrouded London are well abetted by cinematographer Lucien Ballard (“The Wild Bunch”), but it’s Cregar’s turn as a stranger obsessed with singer Merle Oberon who drives the dread at the heart of “The Lodger.” It’s a tricky wire act to move from seemingly doomed romantic to possessed killer, but Cregar pulls it off without falling into camp or hysterics; no mean feat, and a testimony to his talents, which were cut short by a heart attack (brought on by crash dieting) before the release of his final picture, “Hangover Square” (1946), which reunited him with Brahm and screenwriter Barre Lyndon. Kino’s Blu-ray offers a new and informative commentary by Bela Lugosi biographer Gregory William Mank (who’s penning a new book on Cregar); it’s paired with a number of other extras (all ported over from the 2008 Fox DVD), including a second commentary track by noir experts Alain Silver and James Ursini and a radio adaptation of “The Lodger” with Vincent Price in the Cregar role.

Broken Arrow” (1950) Well-intentioned, but also well-made Western drama about the relationship between scout Tom Jeffords (James Stewart) and Apache leader Cochise (Jeff Chandler), which helped to end a brutal decade-long war between whites and Native Americans in the Arizona Territory circa 1872. The picture has its stumbling blocks, especially the casting of white actors in primary Native American roles – Chandler, who received an Oscar nod for his turn as Cochise, and teenaged Debra Paget as the bride of forty-something Stewart (at least future TV Tonto Jay Silverheels plays Geronimo) – but it also makes an effort to portray its Native American characters as humans, not “noble” primitives, and director Delmer Daves and blacklisted writer Albert Maltz, who also received an Oscar nomination, spare little in emphasizing the white-fueled racism that resulted in atrocities on both sides of the fight. Kino’s 2K restored Blu-ray includes the original theatrical trailer and a Fox newsreel which details promotional efforts by Stewart, Debra Paget and author Elliot Arnold, whose novel <i>Blood Brother</i> was the source material for the film. Arnold also penned the “Apache Wedding Prayer,” the centerpiece of many a culturally well-meaning but over-sensitive ceremony, and heard its in entirety here.

September Storm” (1960) Treasure hunters Mark Stevens and Robert Strauss partner with model Joanne Dru and sailor Asher Dann to retrieve $3 million in gold doubloons off the coast of Majorca, but lust, both financially motivated and otherwise, upends the arrangement as soon the loot is located. Rarely seen B-noir has a curious pedigree: written by W.R. Burnett (“High Sierra,” “The Asphalt Jungle,” “The Great Escape”) and directed by Byron Haskin (“The War of the Worlds”), it also had the misfortune to be shot in 3-D a half-decade after audiences had lost interest in the fad. As a result, “September Storm” disappeared from view until this Blu-ray, which offers both 2-D and 3-D versions (the latter skillfully restored by the 3-D Film Archive). You’ll need a 3-D television to see the full effect, as well as the wonderfully clunky stop-motion 3-D short “The Adventures of Sam Space,” and the long-lost “Harmony Lane,” a charming British variety act film from 1953. There’s also a new interview with Dann, who left acting to become a top L.A. real estate agent and for a brief period of time, co-managed the Doors, as well as TV and theatrical trailers for “Storm.”

Framed” (1975) Exhaustingly brutal crime drama reunites star Joe Don Baker, director Phil Karlson and producer/writer Mort Briskin, who struck drive-in paydirt the previous year with “Walking Tall.” That picture’s policy of do unto others and make it hurt is also employed here – this time, Baker is a gambler seeking revenge against a cabal of corrupt authority figures that sent him to prison on trumped-up charges – but without the touch of levity or sense of last resort justice that fueled Buford Pusser’s big-stick beatdowns. Karlson, who was always able to examine the psychology behind desperate criminal activity (see “Kansas City Confidential”), dispenses with the why and focuses squarely on the mechanics of Baker’s revenge, which takes some grisly turns (dog maulings, knives through hands, an active spark plug shoved into an ear). It gets repetitive after a while, though Karlson at least makes sure that the supporting cast is the right mix of brute and grit (mob boss John Marley, hitman Gabe Dell, fist-faced John Larch, Walter Brooke (“Plastics”), Memphis Mafioso Red West and plug uglies Roy Jenson and wrestling legend H.B. Haggerty) to make the beefy, perpetually scowling Baker seem somewhat heroic. There’s also a jaw-dropping collision between train and car that warrants multiple rewinds (keep your eye on the stuntman leaping from the vehicle) Kino’s Blu-ray includes commentary from Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, who provide perspective on cast and crew.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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